Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

How a DEI Leader at Automattic Creates a Culture of Allyship

a person with long dark hair smiling
Niesha Sweet, Global HR Business Partner and DEI Lead at Automattic.
| Courtesy of Niesha Sweet

Niesha Sweet has always been good with people, which led her to pursue a career in human resources. But it wasn’t until Sweet was already working in the field that she discovered how she could make a difference for others. “I didn’t really know much about the job responsibilities other than this is the team of people who hire and fire you, but HR was so much more than that,” she says.

One area Sweet has become passionate about is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). “DEI isn’t a new function within the workforce, but it wasn’t a focus area for HR until recently,” says Sweet, who is a global HR business partner and DEI lead at Automattic. “I realized that being the only Black woman on my team didn’t have to be a ‘norm.’ That’s what really kick-started my journey into this space.”

Here, Sweet talks about her work in the DEI space and shares examples of new programs and initiatives the company has developed to support employees.

What led you to your job at Automattic, and what has kept you there for more than five years?

The ability to work remotely is what initially piqued my interest because I was specifically searching for remote-friendly HR jobs at the time. I was motivated to apply after reading various blog posts from current Automatticians; an article about how my director joined as the company’s first HR hire; the HR team’s core values (yes, there are companies that balance employer and employee needs effectively); and lastly, learning that our CEO, Matt Mullenweg, is a fan of Kendrick Lamar. That sealed the deal for me: I knew I had to work for Automattic, and that is what has kept me here for more than five years.

What are you responsible for in your role?

As a global HR business partner, My responsibilities range from coaching leaders, performance management, identifying and driving people initiatives, leading country-specific compliance efforts, hands-on involvement in the total experience for Automatticians, and partnering with other functions in the company, including talent, learning and development, and finance.

In my role as a DEI lead, I’m responsible for providing support and resources for our Automattician Resource Groups (ARGs), identifying training needs across various business groups or roles, driving and contributing to our DEI initiatives, monitoring the effectiveness of our programs, and partnering with functions that oversee our employer brand and role-specific experience teams.

How does Automattic approach DEI? What are your priorities?

DEI is approached as a shared responsibility across Automatticians, no matter their role or location. Initiatives are very much a grassroots effort, and we have amazing people championing programs and initiatives either as volunteers or as part of their job responsibilities. Our priorities for the year are creating a new one-, three-, and five-year DEI strategy, enabling our ARGs, and working on initiatives to increase the feeling of belonging among Automatticians.

We’d love to know more about your involvement in fostering DEIB at Automattic.

Our ARGs have done a great job of fostering DEI. We have six: Queeromattic (LGBTQIA), Sustainomattic (sustainability), Cocoamattic (Black/African), Neurodiverseomattic (neurodivergent), Woman of Automattic, and Physical Disability resource groups. Each group has championed initiatives providing support and resources for those working at Automattic, along with external-facing work, such as celebrating Pride, Trans Visibility Day, Black History months in the U.S. and U.K, and offsetting data center power emissions. A few specific examples of programs our ARGs have contributed to improving are:

Executive Coaching Program: We’ve built our current roster with coaches from all over the world to meet the needs and share their experiences in mental health, LGBTQIA, and identify with underrepresented groups.

Leadership: Our Neurodiverse ARG created a resource for team leads to use when navigating the best and most inclusive way of supporting neurodivergent team members.

Internal Policies: We continue to audit the language in our Field Guide (an intranet tool) to ensure we’re using inclusive language, and provide support and resources to Automatticians transitioning at work, parenting, navigating grief, and more.

There’s been a lot of change in the world of work lately. What is the biggest challenge you and your HR team have faced during this time, and how did you overcome it?

We were lucky in the sense that COVID-19’s impact on organizations shifting to remote work wasn’t a challenge for us. Automattic has been distributed since 2005. The biggest challenge I’d say our Automatticians faced was dealing with school closures during the pandemic. Many of our parents were now juggling work with their kids at home and trying to find the best way to balance work and home life. We experimented with a four-day work week and temporary adjustments to team and individual responsibilities. We saw that the temporary adjustments were beneficial for Automatticians, so we rolled out part-time work options where anyone could transition from full-time to either an 80% or 60% work schedule.

Why does the work you’re doing at Automattic excite and inspire you?

I wholeheartedly feel like my work in HR and DEI is life-changing. Our team cares so deeply about the entire experience of our Automatticians, and we do our best to provide support and resources whenever and however we can.

What has been your greatest accomplishment at Automattic?

My greatest accomplishment, which happened earlier this year, was rolling out our Transgender Benefits Guide. When the request to create a guide to help Automatticians seeking gender-affirming care came to our team, I immediately raised my hand to work on this project. I researched to find a consultant with experience in transgender healthcare and quickly brought them onboard to provide one-on-one support for Automatticians and their dependents. During this time, the consultant and I worked closely alongside another Automattician to create and review different iterations of the guide. I was so proud to work on this project, and I’m encouraging other HR and DEI professionals to work with their benefits consultants to create a similar guide for their own employees.

What do you like most about the culture at Automattic?

Openness of communication: There was a bit of culture shock when I first joined Automattic and I would hear or see fellow colleagues sharing candid and honest feedback on what they liked or disliked. At previous employers, these sorts of conversations happened in backchannels, and they were rarely ever discussed with anyone in leadership. Sharing honest and candid feedback can be scary, so I genuinely appreciate it when it’s done productively and with compassion.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

“Always leave a job better than how you came in.” The intent behind this piece of advice is that you should take advantage of opportunities and resources available to you with any employer, and if you leave, leave with new skills and growth within your role.